Why can’t Tony Blair be like Eric Blair? Because one was born in Motihari, India, the other in Edinburgh, Scotland? Because while both went to public school, only one went to Oxford? Because though their fathers worked overseas, one was a university lecturer in Australia, the other an Indian Civil Service officer? Or is it because only one married a distant relation of John Wilkes Booth? Yes, the terminator of Abraham Lincoln.
Happy birthday, Tony, but not many happy returns of the day at 10 Downing Street. That’s how plenty of people must be feeling if they remember at all today — May 6 — is his birthday. Yes, born in 1953, he is all of 53 today. I discovered that only because I checked Answers.com which also has another interesting detail which I shall pass over here. This is a family blog.
But reading The Guardian and The Times yesterday in the wake of Labour’s humiliating defeat in local elections which triggered the customary headline, "Blair must go now", I realised something else — why Eric Blair had to change his name to George Orwell.
"He is said to have assumed his pseudonym, inspired by the River Orwell, near his parents’ house in Suffolk, to spare his family embarrassment," said the BBC when he died of tuberculosis at the age of 46 on January 21, 1950. It didn’t say what could be the possible cause of embarrassment, simply adding:
"Orwell’s early writings often drew on his own experiences of poverty which were in marked contrast to his privileged background.
"He spent time living as a tramp in the East End of London and as a dishwasher in Paris – events which inspired his first book in 1933, Down and Out in London and Paris."
But I suspect there was another reason why he used a pseudonym: he couldn’t bear the thought of sharing the same surname as Tony Blair.
It’s true Tony wasn’t even born when he died. But remember he anticipated surveillance cameras, databases, the loss of privacy, Big Government. Is it impossible that a man of his prophetic vision also foresaw the birth and rise of Tony Blair? And we know what he thought of politicians. So the name had to go — and Eric Arthur Blair became George Orwell.
Tony Blair, of course, has more important things to think about than why Eric Blair became George Orwell.
What’s Orwell, after all, but a writer.
And Blair of No 10? The prime minister of Britain for the past nine years.
For darned too long, Chancellor Gordon Brown might mutter under his breath. But his dreams of becoming the prime minister himself may turn out to be a brown study, after all, if his party continues to lose like in the local elections.
Blair is certainly making things sticky for him. He may have promised this will be his last term and Brown will be the next prime minister. But he didn’t consult Brown when he reshuffled the Cabinet yesterday after the election defeat. "Gordon Brown will be very wary of the promotion of John Reid to Home Secretary and Alan Johnson to Education – either man is potentially a leadership challenger," said The Times.
That’s another difference between Eric Blair and Tony Blair. The former proved a visionary, the latter tricky.
Tony Blair may never be Eric Blair. But maybe he aspires to be another Machiavelli.